My Goal in Blogging

I started this blog in May of 2008, shortly after my election to the School Committee, because I believed it was very important to both provide the community with an opportunity to share their thoughts with me about our schools and to provide me with an opportunity for me to ask questions and share my thoughts and reasoning. I have found the conversation generated on my blog to be extremely helpful to me in learning community views on many issues. I appreciate the many people who have taken the time to share their views. I believe it is critical to the quality of our public schools to have a public discussion of our community priorities, concerns and aspirations.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Citizen group to study Amherst school budget

Hampshire Gazette

AMHERST - While students are on their holiday break, members of a new citizen committee on the school budget will have a homework assignment.

The 10 members will each be writing 10 questions they want answered about school spending and proposed budget cuts for next year. Starting Jan. 4, they'll meet twice a week for at least six weeks before communicating their findings to the public.

The School Committee did not form the group of volunteers to promote or oppose the tax override vote planned for March 23, but to articulate questions and educate the public, said member Irv Rhodes. At the first meeting Monday, several members gave their perspectives on spending issues.

"Amherst needs to be more efficient in its use of tax dollars," said Stan Gawle. He said he opposes an override, but if the school budget "goes on a severe diet and gets down to basics, then I believe people will support it. There needs to be change before people open their pocketbooks."

Becky Demling said that when looking at the budget, it's important to understand programs.

"It's easy to say ¿Let's cut that' without knowing who it serves," she said. "We need to understand what we're cutting. We're trying to preserve as quality a school system as possible, not just getting down to a certain figure, not cutting for the sake of cutting."

Joe Cullen said the committee should look for "out-of-the-box thinking" and ask, "Why do we do it that way?"

School Committee member Andy Churchill said the purpose of the citizen group is to learn "what are the questions the community needs answering."

James Chumbley said he has a question about the teacher-student ratio. "I look at enrollment and divide by the number of teachers and get one ratio, but I hear the average class size is twice that," he said.

The committee will be compiling, through Chairwoman Alison Donta-Venman, a list of information it wants from Finance Director Rob Detweiler. Member Rick Hood said he wants line-by-line spending data in as detailed a form as Northampton provides on its Web site.

A budget forum has been scheduled for Jan. 21 and a public hearing on the school budget will be Feb. 2. The School Committee plans to vote on the regional and elementary budgets the week of Feb. 7.

The other members of the citizen committee are Ernie Dalkas, Jennifer Holme, Joe Gensheimer and Amy Brodigan.


Ed said...


There is a reason why audits are always a good idea, and not to be feared by those who are doing their jobs honestly & honorably.

I can answer the question why the average class size and teacher student average don't match - and the question you want is not mean but mode & median class sizes.

Look at UMass which has a faculty/student ratio of, say, 1:40 but has lots of 500 student classes. So if you calculate it one way (how big are the classes that most students are in) you get a three digit number, but if you calculate it another way (mean average of all class sizes) you can get a very different number.

Why? Take this hypothetical:

There are two classes. One has 99 kids in it. The other is an independent study with a professor and hence is a "class" with just one student in it. 100/2=50 and thus your "average" class size is just 50 students.

And you can see how three more of these one-student classes would drop the mean quite a bit more.

Take it a different way - how mean and not median property values are messing up some of the hilltowns which have one or two very rich people living there.

And unless you have every class exactly the same size, your class size and faculty ratios will not match. How big are the SPED, ELL and other courses?

Ed said...

0ne more thing: While you could have (in my hypothetical) an "average" (mean) class size of 50, you would not have any classes of that size. Hence mode - the size most often found - and with 2/3 independent studies and the one big class, your mode would be 1 which would tell you something quite important.

Anonymous said...

And then what?
And yet another group, another committee forms.....
Will it realize the foolishness of closing Marks Meadow, the overflow of administrators in the system, the excess of staff in programs like Building Blocks??....

Anonymous said...

Check out this week's Bulletin's Commentary page.

Time yourself on how long you can stay interested.

The Bulletin is an institution desperately in need of a Citizen Advisory Board.

My continuing complaint is that there are factual disputes that continue to fester in this community, disputes that actually matter in the policy debate, and the Bulletin sits on its hands spectating. Instead what we get to nourish us is a Dick Teresi Parade of Prejudices.

Rich Morse

Anonymous said...

overflow of administrators in the system, the excess of staff in programs like Building Blocks??....

There's plenty in the district that needs reviewing, but from my experience as an employee these are not anywhere near the pressing issues.

In fact there should be more mid-level people in key positions such as supervision of SPED at the building level (to deploy & supervise staff more effectively/accountably) and elementary subject coaches/curriculum support. Maybe those that do wouldn't hate Investigations as much if there was an Investigations go-to person in each building.

They have that in Northampton -- each ES has math coaches (teachers who've been trained and get paid extra for that duty).

As for Building Blocks -- it's either in district or out of district. Do a cost benefit analysis. These are kids who need constant 1-1 or 1-2 supervision and support.

Due to confidentiality issues BB is not well understood. I wish you could see what it's really about. You wouldn't be so critical if you did, I believe.

Ed said...

As for Building Blocks -- it's either in district or out of district. Do a cost benefit analysis. These are kids who need constant 1-1 or 1-2 supervision and support.

One of the things I am noticing is the much greater 7-12 outplacement than the K-6 rate. This means one of three things -- (a) parents become more knowledgable over time and are better advocates (quite possible), (b) the K-6 folks are doing really good and the higher grades badly, or (c) the K-6 folks screw things up so badly that out of district placement is the only viable option.

My gut feeling is that it is the latter. Nothing but a gut feeling, mind you, but still....

And someone ought to figure out why there is such a statistically significant discrepancy....

Anonymous said...

Maybe it's because elementary school age kids with mental illnesses are easier too deal with then mentally ill teenagers and teens need more than can be offered in district.

Ed said...

Maybe it's because elementary school age kids with mental illnesses are easier too deal with then mentally ill teenagers and teens need more than can be offered in district.

Oh Catherine, this is your field, not mine, care to comment?

And at the risk of being insensitive, what percentage of the SPED students are low IQ/retarded/developmentally delayed/whatever-it-is-that-we-are-supposed-to-say-to-be-sensitive-this-week, what percentage have Learning Differences (LD), and what percentage are mentally ill?

And of the latter, what is the anticipated recovery time if they receive proper treatment? In other words, just because a child is mentally ill one year, should we expect that child to be SPED until graduation?

(I am thinking that being actually BAD because aren't we supposed to be reintergrating these children back into the classroom?)

Anonymous said...

Ed, it's just not that easy to divide kids into neat categories with A, B or C labelled-issues that can be fixed by D, E or F medications or treatments.

Child psychiatry is even more of an inexact science than adult psychiatry.

A lot of this info is confidential by law, so I don't think you're going to get satisfaction on this one.

Also, do you have a personal grudge against how Amherst handles mental illness in the schools? You seem so suspicious.

Anonymous said...

...I know much about the BB program and by too many staff in this program I simply mean witnessing them without students at any given time during any given day....This is what I mean by an overflow. Also this program was to be investigated for mistreatment of their students by holding the door closed of a closet type room--it had a window on it so this was supposed to make it all 'legal'....whoa....barbaric is now legal...
Is this new 'citizen group' going to do anything about this?? Think not...think this is just another sad case of $$ overpowering abuse!
And Ed, many of the students in BB are 'developmentally delayed' and no they don't just get 'better' the next year, or the next one after that. I see this program as not only exploiting parents, by not fully enlightening them to their 'tactics', but exploiting the system for the big bucks it rakes in!